Interactions Bioculturelles



Chargée de recherche au CNRS
Ethnobiologiste / géographe

Mon domaine de recherche peut être défini par deux thèmes : les relations Hommes-milieux, et l’agrobiodiversité. J’analyse comment les deux composantes du concept de biodiversité, les diversités culturelle et biologique, interagissent, et comment elles peuvent constituer un potentiel d’adaptation pour des sociétés confrontées à des changements de plus en plus rapides et globaux.


My field of research can be defined by two themes: the relationships between humans and habitats, and agrobiodiversity. I analyse how the two components of the biodiversity concept, cultural and biological interact and how they constitute an adaptive potential for societies exposed to faster and faster global changes.


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Campus du CNRS
1919, route de Mende
F-34293 Montpellier 5
Tél. : +33 (0) 4 67 61 32 34
Fax : +33 (0) 4 67 61 33 36

bureau 2-C-204

Disciplines :
Géographie culturelle / Ethnobiologie
Pays :
Vanuatu / Amazonie (Brésil, Pérou et Equateur) / Colombie / France (Gaillac)
Thématiques :
Relations entre les humains et leur environnement
Autres :
agrodiversité, analyse des réseaux sociaux, interactions bioculturelles, diversité culturelle, conservation in situ, droits fonciers, indicateurs de bien-être/résilience, système semencier, végéculture


reino unidoPublications


Professor of research in Geography/Ethnobiology at CNRS

Actual position

Researcher at CNRS since 2007 - Center for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (UMR 5175 CEFE), Biocultural Interactions group - Montpellier

Associate Research Fellow at the Center for Research and Documentation on Oceania (UMR 7308) - Marseille


Key words

Countries: Vanuatu / Amazonia (Brazil, Peru and Ecuador) / Colombia / France (Gaillac)

Methods: Participant observation, survey & questionnaire, social network analysis

Key-words: agrodiversity, biocultural interactions, cultural diversity, informal seed system, in situ conservation, land tenure, resilience, social network analysis, seed circulation, vegeculture, wellbeing/resilience indicators


Research themes

  1. Adaptation to socio-environmental changes: Resilience, or the adaptation of humans to socio-environmental changes, is a transversal theme of all my projects. Humans adapt to their environment in large part by adapting it to their needs, i.e., by constructing their social and ecological niche. I attempt to answer questions such as the following: How can the interactions between cultural and biological diversities contribute to the capacity for adaptation of societies confronted by increasingly rapid and globalized changes? How do societies in close relation with their environment use, transform, invent and transmit their knowledge in relation to extreme climatic events or social changes? I am investigating the importance of mosaic landscapes, which provide complementary spaces in which to cultivate crops, harvest forest products, or fish and harvest marine resources.


  1. Biocultural diversity, conservation and local knowledge: I investigate the interactions between the two components of the concept of biodiversity—cultural and biological diversities—in order to describe local knowledges and practices of small-scale agricultural societies. I try to describe and understand the complexity of agrobiodiversity by answering questions such as the following: How does the complex of farmers’ knowledges and practices impact the diversity of crops? And reciprocally, what can the information (nomenclature, classification, uses, and origin) collected on people’s relations with plants teach us about the society, its organization and its reproduction? My work emphasizes the fundamental links between the person, the place and the plant.

Projects (3): PhD, MAN, GDR MOSAIQUE.

  1. Circulation of seeds and of knowledge: The analysis of seed exchange networks can reveal new relations between societies and biodiversity. How does the structure of seed circulation networks impact agrobiodiversity, including intraspecific genetic diversity of crop plants? But also, what are the social and geographical barriers that constrain the structure of inter-individual relations? I am working on the influence of the status of humans and of plants (in terms of their biocultural significance) on the structure and functioning of seed circulation networks. Going further than seed systems, social network analysis is also a useful tool to analyze how knowledge circulate among farmers.


  1. Indicators of wellbeing, from Oceania to Gaillac: The process of developing wellbeing indicators with a biocultural approach can help to (1) overcome the nature-culture dichotomy that often makes global approaches inconsistent with local approaches by integrating the various forms of relationship with nature, (2) incorporate feedbacks between humans and their environment with a focus on processes, not just final states, and (3) define, measure and monitor ecological and human well-being as a whole. Using the same term "wellbeing" for humans and non-humans would help strengthen the interactions between humans and non-humans. With my colleagues from the American Museum of Natural History and the University of Hawaii (among others), we reveal that wellbeing in Oceania depends mostly on the strength of the connections between people and of people with their place, and on the richness of their local knowledges; these three components are rarely integrated in the Sustainable Development Goals or Aichi Targets. Such results are not surprising when working only with a small group of people whose wealth of local knowledge respectful to nature and the adaptability of their practices are well established. The co-construction of wellbeing indicators with Western peoples in Gaillac will allow us to demonstrate that other—less ancestral, less isolated or less rural--peoples can also develop social ties and a strong attachment to the place and to the beings that interact with it.


  1. Diversity of relations, knowledges and practices in viticulture (Gaillac): I want to describe the diversity of agricultural knowledges and practices created and transmitted by winegrowers in Gaillac (Occitanie, France). They are shaped by diverse (1) ontologies (i.e. the nature and relation of being), in particular multiple forms of relations between humans and their territory (cf. “attachment-to-place”), and (2) property regimes (small ownership, renting schemes or ‘fermage’, production cooperatives, ownership of large tracts of land by absent proprietors). How do new practices emerge? Winegrowers are great investigators, experimenting alone or with other colleagues, using an empirical and validation-by-proof framework. What kinds of knowledge are mobilized by scientists and by farmers? How can they work together? Although complementarity between scientific and local knowledge is now recognized, practical applications are rare, and there is still little understanding of epistemological questions and power issues.

Projects (3): CAN, BIEN, ASSET.



Over the course of my undergraduate and graduate training, I chose a path that mixed disciplines (from ecology to anthropology), academic traditions (in francophone and Anglo-Saxon universities), and basic and applied research. In the following, I detail the methods I use to answer my research questions.

  1. Anthropology: Participant observation, surveys and questionnaires (statistical analyses, for example, using free-listing techniques) are embedded in long periods of fieldwork. The particularity of this approach lies in its explicit emphasis on the perceptions, knowledge and understandings of indigenous people and local communities (IPLCs) of their own reality and problems. This is called an emic approach.
  1. Ethnobiology: Ethnoecology is the study of complex relationships, both past and present, between human societies and their environment. I use the traditional tools of ethnobotany to analyze and understand the processes by which people name, classifyand use plants. In work on biocultural interactions, I have adopted adaptationist and process-based approaches to always put Indigenous/local knowledge in a social, environmental, economic but also symbolic context.
  1. Geography and agronomy: I am interested in the mapping of living spaces and resources, and more recently in the way participatory maps with farmers could reveal place-attachment and generate optimistic and pessimistic scenarios to design future landscapes. I have compared present and past uses (with time series of aerial photos and satellite images in Vanuatu), and examined local typology (nomenclature, use, right of access). In relation to agronomy, I have opted for inventories and the morphological description of plants in situ.
  1. Social network analysis and genetics: I also work in the field of social network analysis through statistical and modeling methods. Using the statistical package R, in collaboration with mathematicians who are continuously developing new methods, we are finding ways to better analyze small samples and/or qualitative data. The NetSeed project, which I co-directed with Prof D. McKey, led us to realize that social network analysis requires specialist expertise in modelling. I therefore co-founded with other colleagues the MIRES and MADRES projects, and the GDR ResoDiv, within which social scientists and bio-mathematicians work together. I also continue to collaborate with geneticists of crop populations with a cross-disciplinary approach.
  1. Biocultural approaches: These approaches are centered on local ways of knowing and on local values, with the potential for using western science in support of objectives defined by IPLCs. To summarize, a biocultural approach includes local values, knowledges, beliefs and ontologies, recognizes feedbacks between nature and culture, and reinforces the “people as part of nature” perspective.
  1. Mixed approaches: Interdisciplinarity can better be achieved if we focus on methods rather than on disciplines. My main methodological goal is to better integrate qualitative and quantitative approaches in answering questions in social and human sciences. We need to erase pre-conceived ideas and artificial oppositions between qualitative and quantitative methods. Through my research, I am careful to (1) qualify before, during and after quantifying, (2) adopt long-term ethnographic observations to choose the best hypothesis among alternatives, (3) explain what is modeled and what we leave out, and to (4) avoid the transformation of every kind of data into quantifiable data (quantisizing).



Peer-reviewed journals

23. Comptour M., Cosiaux A., Coomes O.T., Bader J.-C., Malaterre P.-O., Yoka J., Caillon S.* & McKey D.* (2019). Agricultural innovation and environmental change on the floodplains of the Congo River. The Geographical Journal. *These two authors contributed equally to this study.

22. Dacks R., Ticktin T., Mawyer A., Caillon S., Claudet J., Fabre P., Jupiter S., McCarter J., Mejia M., Pascua P., Sterling E., Wongbusarakum S. (2019). Developing biocultural indicators for resource management. Conservation Science and Practice.

21. Comptour M., Caillon S., Rodrigues L. & McKey D. 2018. Wetland raised-field agriculture and its contribution to sustainability: ethnoecology of a present-day african system and questions about pre-columbian systems in the American Tropics. Sustainability 10(9): 3120.

20. Caillon S., Cullman G., Verschuuren B. & Sterling E. (2017). Biocultural approaches to designing indicators: moving beyond the dichotomy between humans and non-humans. Ecology and Society 22(4): art. 27.

19. Sterling E. J., Filardi C., Newell J., Albert S., Alvira D., Bergamini N., Betley E., Blair M., Boseto D., Burrows K., Bynum N., Caillon S., Caselle J.E., Claudet J., Cullman G., Dacks R., Eyzaguirre P. B., Gazit N., Gray S., Herrera J., Kenilorea P., Kinney K., Kurashima N., Macey S., Mauli S., McCarter J., McMillen H., Pascua P., Pikacha P., Porzecanski A.L., de Robert P., Salpeteur M., Sigouin A., Sirikolo M., Stege M.H., Stege K., Ticktin T., Toomey A., Vave R., Wali A., West P., Winter K.B. & Jupiter S. (2017). Biocultural approaches to well-being and sustainability indicators across scales. Nature: Ecology and Evolution, October 23rd. http://doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0349-6.

18. Sterling, E., Ticktin T., Morgan K., Cullman G., Alvira D., Andrade P., Bergamini N., Betley E., Burrows K., Caillon S., Claudet J., Dacks R., Eyzaguirre P., Filardi C., Gazit N., Giardina C., Jupiter S., Kinney K., McCarter J., Mejia M., Morishige K., Newell J., Noori L., Parks J., Pascua P., Ravikumar A., Tanguay J., Sigouin A., Stege T., Stege M., Wali A. (accepted). Culturally grounded indicators of resilience in social-ecological systems. Environment and Society: Advances in Research 8: 63–95.

17. Comptour M., Caillon S. & McKey D. (2016). Pond fishing in the Congolese cuvette: a story of fishermen, animals and water spirits. Revue d’ethnoécologie 10.

16. Thomas M. & Caillon S. (2016). Effects of social status of farmers and biocultural value of plants on seed circulation networks in Vanuatu. Ecology and Society 21: art13

15. Thomas M., Verzelen N., Barbillon P., Coomes O.T., Caillon S., McKey D., Elias M., Garine E., Raimond C., Dounias E., Jarvis D., Wencélius J., Leclerc C., Labeyrie V., Cuong P.H., Hue N.T.N., Sthapit B., Rana R.B., Barnaud A., Violon C., Reyes L.M.A., Moreno L.L., De Santis P., Massol F. (2015). Chapter Six - A network-based method to detect patterns of local crop biodiversity: validation at the species and infra-species levels. In: Guy, W., David, A.B. (Eds.), Advances in Ecological Research. Academic Press, 53: 259-320.

14. Coomes O., McGuire S., Garine E., Caillon S., McKey D., Demeulenaere E., Jarvis D., Aistara G., Barnaud A., Clouvel P., Emperaire L., Louafi S., Martin P., Massol F., Pautasso M.,  Violon C. & Wencélius J. (2015). Farmer seed networks make a limited contribution to agriculture? Four common misconceptions. Food policy 56: 41-50.

13. Leopold M., Beckensteiner J., Kalatavara & Caillon S. (2013). Community-based management of coastal fisheries in Vanuatu: what works? Marine Policy 42: 167-176.

12. Pautasso M., Aistara G., Barnaud A., Caillon S., Clouvel P., Coomes, Delêtre M., Demeulenaere E., De Santis P., Döring, Eloy L., Emperaire L., Garine E., Goldringer I., Jarvis D., Joly H.I., Leclerc C., Louafi S., Martin P., Massol F., McGuire S., McKey D., Padoch C., Soler C., Thomas M., Tramontini S. (2013). Seed exchange networks for agrobiodiversity conservation. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 33(1): 151-175.

11. Caillon S. & Coomes O.T. (2012). Agriculture traditionnelle et fleurs coupées: un mariage réussi en Amazonie. Journal des anthropologues, 128-129: 85-114.

10. Caillon S. (2011). Ethnobotanique du cocotier (Cocos nucifera L.) sur l’île de Vanua Lava (Vanuatu), Journal de la Société des Océanistes 133: 333-352.

9. Le Tourneau F.-M., Caillon S., Eloy L., Greissing A., Kohlers F., Marchand G. & Nasuti S. (2008). "Géographie et anthropologie. Deux regards complémentaires pour l’étude des territoires des populations traditionnelles d’Amazonie brésilienne" EchoGéo 7 (Sur le Métier – Hommage à Claude Lévi-Strauss).

8. Caillon S. & Degeorges P. J. (2007). Biodiversity: negotiating the border between nature and culture. Biodiversity and Conservation, 16(10): 2919-2931.

7. Caillon S. (2007). Arbre d'antan, arbre « des Blancs ». Evolution de la valeur sociale des cocotiers et de leur espace à Vanua Lava (Vanuatu). Géographie et Culture « Médiance et Géographicité », 63: 87-104.

6. Caillon S., Quero-García J., Lescure J.-P. & Lebot V. (2006). Nature of taro (Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott) genetic diversity prevalent in a Pacific Ocean island, Vanua Lava, Vanuatu. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 53(6): 1273-1289.

5. Caillon S. & Lanouguère-Bruneau V. (2005). Gestion de l'agrobiodiversité dans un village de Vanua Lava (Vanuatu): stratégies de sélection et enjeux sociaux. Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 120-121(1): 129-148.

4. Caillon S. & Degeorges P. (2005). Biodiversités, quand les frontières entre culture et nature s’effacent…. Ecologie & Politique, 30: 85-95.

3. Caillon S. (2005). Les taros du Vanuatu: Que conserver et comment? Nature Sciences et Sociétés, 13(3): 306-310.

2. Caillon S., Quero-García J. & Guarino L. (2004). Taros in Vanuatu: toward a dynamic conservation strategy. Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture, 20(1): 18-20.

1. Labouisse J.-P. & Caillon S. (2001). Une approche de la conservation in situ par l'étude d'un système semencier informel : cas du cocotier au Vanuatu (Pacifique Sud). Oléagineux Corps gras Lipides, 8(5): 534-539.

Book chapters

11. Labeyrie V., Caillon S., Salpeteur M. & Thomas M. (2019). Network analysis: linking social and ecological dynamics. In Waldeck R. (ed.), Methods and interdisciplinarity, Iste Ltd. & Wiley, Londres : 69-97.

10. Labeyrie V., Caillon S., Salpeteur M. & Thomas M. (2019). Etudes des interactions entre les sociétés et l’environnement : l’analyse des réseaux comme méthode pour faire le lien entre sciences biologiques et sociales. In Waldeck R. (ed.), Méthodes et interdisciplinarité, Iste Ltd. & Wiley, Londres : 73-94.

9. Caillon S., Eloy L. & Le Tourneau F-M. (2017). Chapitre IV. Elevage et espace agricole. In Le Tourneau F-M. (ed.), Amazonie brésilienne. Usages et représentations du territoire. Editions de l’IHEAL, coll. « Travaux et mémoires », Paris : 133-160.

8. Caillon S. & Muller S. (2015). Géographie et savoirs locaux : pour une conservation dynamique de l’agrobiodiversité au Vanuatu, in Mathevet R. & Godet L. (eds.) Pour une géographie de la conservation. Réflexions stratégiques et prospectives. L’Harmattan, Paris. 400p : 209-227.

7. Caillon, S. 2015. Exemple 5.2 Diversité bioculturelle des systèmes horticoles au Vanuatu. In In Ronce O. & Pelegrin F., Réponses et adaptations aux changements globaux : quels enjeux pour la recherche sur la biodiversité ? Prospective de recherche. Série FRB, Réflexions stratégiques et prospectives, Paris : 38-39.

6. Caillon S. & Claudet J. (2014). Quand la nature nous rend service in Forget P.M., Hossaert-McKey M. & Poncy O. (eds.) L'Ecologie Tropicale, CNRS - Cherche-Midi: 144-163.

5. Eloy L., Le Tourneau F.-M., Nasuti S., Caillon S., Kohler F., Marchand G., & Greissing A. (2013). Collectif ou individuel ? Territoire & patrimoine chez les quilombolas d’Amazonie orientale. In D. Juhé-Beaulaton, M.-C. Cormier-Salem, P. de Robert. & B. Roussel (éds.), Effervescence patrimoniale au Sud. Entre nature & société. Editions de l’IRD, coll. Latitudes 23, Marseille: 199-225.

4. Garine E., Luxereau A., Wencelius J., Violon C., Robert T.,  Barnaud A., Caillon S., & Raimond C. (2013). De qui les variétés traditionnelles de plantes cultivées pourraient-elles être le patrimoine ? Réflexions depuis le Bassin du Lac Tchad. In D. Juhé-Beaulaton, M.-C. Cormier-Salem, P. de Robert. & B. Roussel (éds.), Effervescence patrimoniale au Sud. Entre nature et société. Editions de l’IRD, coll. Latitudes 23, Marseille: 379-410.

3. Caillon S. (2012). Produce to exchange. The taro water-gardens on Vanua Lava (Vanuatu), a social and sustainable place, in Matthew Spriggs, David Addisson & Peter J. Matthews (eds.) Irrigated taro (Colocasia esculenta) in the Indo-Pacific. Biological, social and historical perspectives. Senri Ethnological Series 78, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japon.: 189-208.

2. Caillon S. Participation (2 photos and their legend) to the book Hommes et natures, People and natures (2012), edited by Motte-Florac E., Aumeeruddy-Thomas Y., Dounias E., Seres humanos y naturalezas. IRD, Marseille, 175 p.

1. Kohler F., Eloy L., Le Tourneau F.-M., Couly C., Nasuti S., Serges D., Caillon S., Marchand & G. Greissing A. (2011). Globalization in the Amazon Region: conflicting answers from « Quilombo » communities. In P. Pachura (ed.) New Knowledge in a New Era of Globalization, Rijeka, Croatia, Intech Open Access, chap. 14, pp. 269-284.


3. Caillon S. (2004). Kokonas mo taros blong Vanuatu: nem mo storian. IRD, Orléans, 70p.

2. Caillon S. & Malau E.F. (2002). Coconuts and taro from the West Coast of Vanua Lava (Vanuatu): an ethno-agronomic inventory. IRD, Orléans, 30p.

1. Caillon S. & Malau E.F. (2002). Kokonas mo taros blong weskos Vanua Lava : wan katalog. IRD, Orléans, 49p.



4. Pérez D., Caillon S., Duputié A., López C., Vernière C. & Szurek B. (2019). Sociocultural factors involved in the epidemiology of cassava bacterial blight in the Colombian Caribbean – Poster. Third Jack R. Harlan International Symposium, SupAgro, Montpellier, 3-7 June.

3. Caillon S. (2010). Biennial rotations: Why do Mafa farmers abandon such an efficient agricultural system? (Mandara Mountains, North Cameroon). The 12th International Congress of the Society of Ethnobiology, Tofino, British Columbia, Canada, 9-14 May (poster).

2. Caillon S., Lebrun P., Berger A., Baudouin L., Labouisse J.-P., Bonnot F., Rouzière A. & Lescure J.-P. (2006). Mesures croisées de la diversité variétale. Cas des cocotiers du Vanuatu. Bureau des Ressources Génétiques. La Rochelle, 2-4 October (poster).

1. Caillon S., Quero-García J. and Lebot V.(2003) Taro (Colocasia esculenta) diversity in a village of Vanuatu: a multidisciplinary approach.Third Taro Symposium. Nadi, Fidji, 22-24 mai (poster)


3. Caillon, S. (2005). Pour une conservation dynamique de l’agrobiodiversité: gestion locale de la diversité variétale d’un arbre « des Blancs » (cocotier, Cocos nucifera L.) et d’une plante « des ancêtres » (taro, Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott) au Vanuatu. PhD of Geography–Management–Environment. Orléans, Université d'Orléans, Orléans: 419p. (+272p. annex).

2. Caillon S. (2000). Stratégies d'échange et diversité variétale du manioc: leurs interactions chez trois ethnies équatoriennes. DEA Environment, Time, Space and Societies, Université d'Orléans, Orléans: 119p.

1. Caillon S. (1999). Agriculture traditionnelle et fleurs ornementales un mariage réussi en Amazonie. Engineer school in Agronomy, ENSAT, Toulouse: 56p.